Meet the Editor
Editing Good Books for Tough Times has been a labour of love for Partnership for Children’s Programme Director, Caroline Egar.
After gaining a degree in English Literature, Caroline trained as a teacher and taught English in Japan and West Africa, encouraging and helping children to enjoy books. Later she worked in educational publishing for three years, and volunteered at her children’s primary school.
‘I helped children to develop their reading skills. Some of them were really struggling, but others were very able, and they could all choose a book appropriate to their own level. The received wisdom was that boys really didn’t enjoy reading books, but on the day that the latest Harry Potter book was published you saw lots of boys coming in, clutching copies that they’d stayed up to midnight to buy and read. So, despite the fact that children now have access to all sorts of other media, they’re still reading books.’
But when children encounter tough times – being bullied at school, having a baby brother or sister, Mum and Dad splitting up – it can be difficult for adults to find the right book for them. Caroline experienced this problem herself.
‘When my daughter’s best friend was six, her mother died of cancer,’ she recalls. ‘She went to live with relatives in Ireland, and I wanted to send something that her aunt could read with her. But when I went to look in bookshops, it was actually very hard to find anything. I bought Badger’s Parting Gifts, which is a classic, but that experience made me think that there must be many people who want to find books for all sorts of difficult situations for a child, and it’s really hard to know where to start and to know which ones are good.’
The concept of Good Books for Tough Times was born – short, independent guides for parents, teachers, librarians and booksellers, introducing some of the best books available. Working in partnership with Booktrust, Caroline short-listed and then read over 200 titles. The result is two guides, one recommending books suitable for five to eight year olds, and the other recommending books for nine to 12 year olds.
‘Books for younger children have a very simple, direct appeal, often from the illustrations, but the ones we have chosen for older children are proper novels. They’re much longer and of course they take time to read, but we didn’t realise quite how long! Having said that, coming to them as an adult, they’re more satisfying to read. The stories are more complex and a lot of them tackle a number of quite serious and difficult issues, such as worrying levels of bullying, seeking asylum or living with a parent who has a mental illness.’
The selection criteria for both guides were the same.
‘I looked for a sensitive take on the issues, books which tackled a difficult feeling or situation in a way which would be helpful for children. And I only chose books that were in some way remarkable – very well-written, perhaps, or beautifully illustrated. Books for five to eight-year-olds are always illustrated, and some of the titles for older children also have excellent drawings to enliven the text.
‘I’m particularly pleased with the diversity of the books in the second guide. For instance, The Secret Garden is a classic which was first published 100 years ago, whereas Michael Morpurgo’s Shadow is bang up-to-date, dealing with the war in Afghanistan. Over the Wall is a translation of a German book about the fall of the Berlin Wall. We have three factual books about bodily changes, because that’s a real concern for children at this age, and books such as Matilda and The Boy in the Dress are so funny that they will make both children and adults laugh.
‘A point that Jacqueline Wilson makes in one of her interviews with us is that, even when children have learned to read independently, it’s still good for parents to read with them, and there are quite a few titles here which adults will really enjoy.’
Copies of Good Books for Tough Times have been sent to every primary school and every public library in England and Wales. Both guides can be viewed online, and printed copies can be ordered from Partnership for Children.
- Want to comment on Good Books for Tough Times? Email Caroline